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5 Tips for Holiday Entertaining at Home

Athena Calderone is one of those hostesses who makes it all look easy: The table is always set in a beautiful-yet-understated way, the food is perfectly portioned (and tastes good), and she always looks and feels totally like herself in whatever she’s wearing—whether it’s jeans and a blouse, or she’s barefoot in a silk slip dress for cooking at home. She started the lifestyle site, EyeSwoon, back in 2011 as a catchall for the things that caught her eye—say, a great recipe for roasted carrots with yogurt she’d recently tried, a roundup of cookbooks on her radar, a design inspiration she’d been gathering for a room in her house. (She and her husband, Victor, self-described renovation addicts, are currently in the middle of a soup-to-nuts transformation of a Cobble Hill brownstone.) “EyeSwoon is a testament to the hours I spend scouring the internet or poring over magazines and books, swooning over those little sparks of inspiration,” she says. Calderone is currently at work on her first cookbook, Cook Beautiful (Abrams), which will be out next year.

Holidays at the Calderone’s are a festive affair as the family heads to their house in Amagansett each year for a quiet and food-filled week that’s rooted in tradition. They buy their Christmas tree at the same place in Riverhead, and after a day spent decorating the tree, Athena and her son Jivan make holiday cookies together. “No doubt, being in the kitchen and creating a meal is when I’m the happiest,” says Athena. Below, she gives us a few of her tips for elevating an at-home dinner party with family and friends.

1. DO THE PREP WORK:

Make food that can be partially prepped ahead of time. I always have a salad with the dressing already made or a roasted vegetable that can be served at room temp. Consider a one-pot meal like a braise and a pre-made tart, crostata, or poached pears (recipe below) for dessert.

2. SET THE SCENE:

When it comes to readying the house for the holidays, I love to purchase tall seasonal branches like olive branches, branches with berries, or a type of evergreen. They can be simply placed in a glass vessel, they’ll last for weeks, they feel festive and fragrant, and they add verticality to any space. I also love to visit the flower market for unique winter options. Citrus, kumquats, pomegranate, and persimmons are breathtaking this time of year and often come on branches. Placed directly on the table, they offer color and vibrancy and are an unexpected yet welcomed design choice.

3. DETAILS, DETAILS:

I try to include something thoughtful and homemade on the table. It could be a watercolor touch on the menus, a recipe card for the dessert so guests can recreate it at home, or custom-made citrus and herb salts in small vessels as a take-away gift. A memento of the meal is always appreciated.

4. LET THERE BE LIGHT:

Five minutes before your guests are set to arrive, light as many votive candles as you can. Candlelight is not only the most flattering light but it makes it appear as if you’ve got it all under control—even if you don’t!

5. A NO-FUSS MENU:

Have a few nibbles set out for when guests arrive. It can be as simple as an overflowing cheese board with figs, grapes, dates, and crackers. When it comes to cocktails, I like something that’s warming and both moderately sweet and spicy for the colder months. For the Spiced Persimmon Bourbon Cocktail, I used persimmons as a base to make a purée that can be prepared ahead of time and the maple-spiced simple syrup can easily be doubled for a larger gathering.

A Festive Pair

  • Spiced Persimmon Bourbon Cocktail

    Spiced Persimmon Bourbon Cocktail

    For a cold-weather cocktail that’s warming, a little bit sweet, and pleasantly spicy, this bourbon-spiked blend does the trick. Best of all, the persimmons can be puréed ahead of time; for a larger batch, double the maple-spiced simple syrup recipe.

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  • Satsuma and Red Wine Poached Pears Over Vanilla Pavlovas

    Satsuma and Red Wine Poached Pears Over Vanilla Pavlovas

    This holiday poached pear dessert is a touch tart and not too sweet. The pear absorbs all of the flavors beautifully, and the dollop of whipped cream is dainty and decadent. (Bonus: It can be made in advance of your guests arrival.)

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Photographer: Sarah Elliott
Stylist: Michelle Reneau
Hair & Makeup: Yuko Mizuno
Tailor: Laura Cortese

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